The stuff of life
calls for a global partnership to turn tackling the
world water crisis into a basis for
Record world consumption has caused unprecedented, serious pollution of
water, both fresh and salt, and over-exploited groundwater resources. Both
the scarcity of water and its poor quality present a host of acute risks
to humanity and the environment. They threaten health, social and economic
well-being, food security and biodiversity - not to speak of economic
development itself. And, besides all this, they exacerbate tensions and
conflicts both within and between countries.
Managing water sustainably requires an integrated approach covering
everything from freshwater rivers, streams, lakes and aquifers, to deltas,
wetlands, coastal zones and the oceans. It can no longer be seen as a
sectoral issue, for it cuts across a vast number of uses from irrigation
and industry to domestic uses and fisheries. This will demand new skills,
new institutional structures, and new planning methods and procedures.
All possible attention must be focused on the role that water can have in
eliminating poverty. Access to safe fresh water for households, farming
and small-scale industrial activities improves living standards and can
significantly increase opportunities for the poor to increase their
Water can also generate employment and sustainable livelihoods. Sixty per
cent of the world's people directly depend on the coastal and ocean
environment as a source of income from such activities as fishing,
shipping and tourism: livelihoods will be promoted if these are managed
properly. Rationally allocating water - which is so important in
agriculture and many other trades - will help provide opportunities for
productive employment. Jobs can also be created in constructing, operating
and maintaining the water distribution infrastructure.
Women and young girls in the rural areas of developing countries spend as
many as five hours a day fetching water from distant sources, several
studies show. Bringing water closer to their homes would free time for
them to generate more income. It would also have tremendous benefits for
Urbanization presents an immediate challenge for managing water, just as
it does for energy and waste. The growth in urban populations predicted
for the coming two decades will bring an unparalleled demand for new
infrastructure. By the end of this century, some 22 cities worldwide will
have 10 million or more inhabitants: 18 of these will be in the developing
world. There is already a large unmet demand for household water, and
serving these dense population centres will often require more water,
capital, and energy than is available or affordable.
Understanding is growing that providing water supply and sanitation
services is no longer merely an engineering discipline, but has to combine
technological development, design and construction with integrated water
resources management. It is also now understood that managing demand -
including pricing water properly - is a surer path to providing water
security than focusing mainly on supply, as in the past. The way in which
water is subsidized in most developing countries mainly benefits the rich
and the middle-class, not the poor.
Water management has to be closely integrated with land management if
other critical problems are to be tackled. These include the degeneration
of ecosystems regulated by groundwater and surface water regimes and the
irreversible degradation of aquifer systems, which reduces the fertility
of the soil and leads to a serious decline in water's availability,
quality and accessibility.
Meanwhile, discharging industrial and urban waste waters into the sea,
poor land-use practices, transporting hazardous substances and
over-exploiting marine resources all threaten food security, fisheries and
Water and sustainable human development are therefore inextricably linked.
Unless there are adequate supplies of water, and unless they are soundly
managed, socio-economic development simply cannot take place. Indeed,
there is a strong case that water is at the heart of some of the most
important tasks now facing development.
First, the Earth's poorest billion people must have access to adequate
water and sanitation services. Second, the trend toward degradation of the
planet's finite freshwater and marine water resources must be reversed.
And, third, processes and policies for sustainable use, management and
conservation must be implemented to protect freshwater, marine and coastal
systems for succeeding generations.
Many efforts are under way to strengthen national capacities so as to
manage water resources in a sustainable, integrated way. The United
Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has supported programmes and projects
related to water resources development, use and management for over 30
years, spending over $1 billion and raising substantial additional
It has identified the following areas for capacity development support:
- Fostering institutional innovations which help promote sustainable water
resources management, and are consistent with it.
- Training and the professional development of staff in demand management
methods and planning.
- Increasing local capabilities to gather and disseminate information and
the capacity to analyse questions of sustainable resource management.
- Assisting in the development of national policy frameworks.
- Supporting the adoption of integrated management approaches to rivers,
lake basins and coastal zones.
Water and waste management are of urgent concern to development agencies
committed to sustainable development. International funding may provide
only about 10 per cent of all water-related investments - the vast
majority are covered by national and community-level human and financial
resources - but it is still vitally important. However, in the past, the
efforts of multilateral and bilateral agencies have been scattered - and
most projects have taken a narrow approach, treating water very much as a
Global Water Partnership
In early August, the Global Water Partnership (GWP) was officially
launched in connection with the Stockholm Water Symposium to overcome
these shortcomings and to promote a more integrated approach to water
management. Originally an initiative of the World Bank, UNDP and SIDA
(Swedish International Development Authority), the Partnership is open to
both international and national institutions engaged in water issues in
the South. We have already solicited significant support and are very
optimistic about the future.
The GWP's main objective is to help countries build their abilities to
plan and manage their water resources successfully and to protect their
aquatic environments. In doing this, we hope to make a substantial
contribution to turning the idea of sustainable human development into a
reality for tens, perhaps, hundreds of millions of people.
Anders Wijkman - a former Swedish member of parliament and a member of
the Club of Rome - is Assistant Administrator of the United Nations
Development Programme and Director of UNDP's Bureau for Policy and